Charlie Braunreiter greeted the first visitors to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm on a recent Saturday morning, and offered up tales about the old days and old-timey music in this southern Minnesota city, where the first wave of musically inclined German immigrants set the stage for a rich tradition of polkas and waltzes here at the confluence of the Minnesota and Cottonwood rivers.
Braunreiter, an 82-year-old concertina player and Minnesota Music Hall of Fame administrator, will talk your ears off about the rich musical tradition in New Ulm, telling personal stories about players with names like "Whoopee John" and "The Six Fat Dutchmen."
While Braunreiter's knowledge leans to the oom-pah-pah, he tries to stay current with more recent entrants to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, like Prince.
"Prince wrote some good songs," Braunreiter says. And Dylan. "I like Bob Dylan -- he didn't care how he looked or how he played."
The Minnesota Music Hall of Fame is a bit quirky, but charmingly so -- much like New Ulm itself.
New Ulm tourism revolves around several annual music and cultural festivals, including Bavarian Blast and Oktoberfest -- but there are fun things to do any time of the year. With the help of recommendations by New Ulm residents in our Public Insight Network, we've assembled a list of seven things to do in this town of 13,500.
1. A TASTE OF GERMANY AT DOMEIERS STORE
At Domeiers you'll find aisles jam-packed with foods and candies (including many variants of marzipan), German cookbooks and magazines, gifts, clocks and Christmas tree ornaments. You can pick up some spaetzle noodles or, better yet, a spaetzle maker and a German recipe book to make the dish yourself. Marlene Domeier, whose mother opened the store in 1934, is the store's owner. If you see her there, ask about where to get the most authentic German food in town. Hint: It's not a restaurant.
2. COMMUNITY, LUNCH AND GYMNASTICS
At many stops in New Ulm you'll find strange juxtapositions -- a mini-golf course that doubles as an environmental education center, for example. Read a little further for that, but first let us tell you about Turner Hall, where you'll encounter in one building a community center, historic pub, gymnastics club and an opportunity to learn about a unique period of German history.
The Turner movement began in the 19th century as a means to oppose Napoleon's occupation of Germany. It was a political group with a focus on physical fitness, primarily gymnastics.
Many Turners immigrated to the U.S. and established a foothold in American towns, opening community centers that carried on Turner traditions.
New Ulm's Turner Hall is a community gathering space where you can also enjoy a casual lunch of burgers and fries, sandwiches, salads and beer in the Rathskeller (roughly, German for "council's cellar"), which claims to be the oldest bar in Minnesota. The basement pub is a cozy, dark space that features murals of the German countryside on its walls.
3. HERMANN THE GERMAN
Ask any New Ulm resident what's not to miss and you're sure to hear about a visit to the 100-foot Hermann Monument in Hermann Heights Park. The statue commemorates Arminius, a.k.a. Hermann the German, a hero of the German resistance against the Romans in 9 A.D. You can climb up a spiral staircase to the feet of Hermann the German. The observation deck offers a view of the town and the Minnesota River below.
4. SCHELL'S BREWERY TOUR
If beer is your thing, take a tour of the historic Schell's Brewery at the edge of town, where popular regional beers like Grain Belt Premium, Nordeast and Schmaltz's Alt are made.
Tour guide Dave Kading, whose mother was born in a building for Schell's Brewery workers, will lead you around the grounds, where gently rolling hills and old brick buildings recall an isolated European village.
Inside the brewery, the only thing visitors are allowed to see is the original brew kettle that was used from 1860 until 1998. The more modern facilities are off limits, but all is forgiven at the end of the tour when samples of some of the 18 varieties of Schell's beer are doled out.
Tours are popular, so make reservations.
5. STRANGE MINI-GOLF AT PUTTING GREEN
What can we say about Putting Green? Maybe that it's just plain weird. And fun. It's a mini-golf course (a difficult one at that) that doubles as a an outdoor classroom on the environment. Each of its nine holes carries a theme about the impact of farming on the natural environment. On the fifth hole, named "Hog Farm Shuffle," your golf ball is supposed to represent the journey from feed corn to pig manure.
Putting Green features a solar-powered club house, native plant garden and walkways, and a miniature farm.
You'll have to wait a bit to see Putting Green. It's closed for the season.
6. MINNESOTA MUSIC HISTORY
At the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame you can talk to administrator and musician Charlie Braunreiter, who was born in New Ulm, speaks German like many New Ulm old-timers, and is an expert on local music history. Included in the $5 entrance fee is an audio guide that plays a sample of inductees' music and information about their lives and musical achievements. Charlie might even play his concertina if you ask him. We were treated to a lovely version of "Huntsman's Waltz."
7. GOOD MEAT
Just a few miles outside New Ulm, in the small town of Nicollet, you'll find a local favorite: Schmidt's meat market, in business since 1947. Customers give high praise to the fresh bacon and sausages. At the counter, an order of the spicy, semi-dry German sausage known as Landjager produced a hearty Minnesota "Oh yaaaah!" from an enthusiastic woman waiting in line.